Penn State's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is one of the largest astronomy programs in the country with 23 tenure-track faculty members and more than 25 additional PhD-level researchers. Another dozen faculty members from other Departments and Colleges in the University pursue research related to astronomy (e.g., Astrobiology, Geophysics). As its mission, the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics seeks to promote science education and training and to expand our knowledge of the universe through undergraduate and graduate education, research, and public outreach.
The Department's introductory astronomy courses are some of the most popular science courses for non-science majors in the University with enrollments that are among the highest of any astronomy program in the country. Meanwhile, the undergraduate program for students majoring in Astronomy & Astrophysics is highly competitive, regularly sending its graduates to the top graduate programs in astronomy. Both undergraduate majors and graduate students are active and vital participants in the front-line research programs conducted at Penn State. With its depth and breadth in research opportunities, Penn State offers an attractive pathway to a career in research and teaching in astronomy and related fields.
The Department is involved in a wide variety of observational, experimental, and theoretical projects that cover most active areas of astrophysical research. Penn State is a partner in the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the IceCube neutrino detector, and the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory. Teams from Penn State built the ACIS camera on the Chandra X-ray Observatory and have played a leading role in the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission. Some of the largest astronomy research efforts at Penn State are coordinated through the Center for Astrostatistics, the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Planets, the Astrobiology Research Center, the Center for Gravitational Wave Physics, and the Center for Particle Astrophysics. The Department has one of the most productive astronomy research programs in the country, according to the recent multi-year study by the National Research Council. Penn State has the highest number of publications per faculty member per year, and the Department is in the top three (along with Princeton University and the California Institute of Technology) in the NRC Survey-based quality score.
The Department has an active and extensive program of public outreach that promotes science literacy in a wide range of demographic groups. These outreach activities include public lectures, elderhostels, inservice workshops for K-12 teachers, planetarium shows for K-12 students, and department open houses and stargazing for members of the public.